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Voices / OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

May 16, 1993| Outside Looking In is an occasional column reporting on how Central Los Angeles is portrayed by the news media outside the area. and

The New York Times weighed in with its one-year-after-the-riots story on May 10, reporting that fewer than half the buildings that suffered major riot damage have been restored.

The Times studied 1,118 buildings in South-Central, Koreatown, Pico-Union and Hollywood, and found that 513 have been repaired. Nearly half the destruction has been repaired in Koreatown and Pico-Union and nearly two-thirds in Hollywood, but less than a third has in South-Central, the study showed.

"Many conflicting forces have combined to slow the rebuilding: lack of money, problems collecting insurance and getting loans, heavy winter rains, bureaucratic delays with permits, compliance with modern seismic and disability codes, opposition to liquor stores, a depressed local economy and, for many owners, sheer fear and weariness," the story said.

"The shop owners who have reopened say business is good, given the lack of competition. But in the area that was hardest hit, the South-Central district, the rebuilding has been slowest. There are pockets of rejuvenation where new supermarkets and malls have sprung up, now behind high wrought-iron fences to deter looters and vandals. But miles of seedy commercial streets are still pockmarked by year-old rubble, and full-scale rebuilding remains a distant glimmer."

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The New Republic, an influential Washington opinion journal, describes Los Angeles as a place where government is "almost totally ineffectual, and politics almost totally nonexistent."

"L.A. is the city where government sidesteps itself," according to a May 3 article, written by L.A. Weekly executive editor Harold Meyerson. "It's not city services that get contracted out; it's governance. The city turns to Warren Christopher to get rid of Daryl Gates (successfully); to Peter Ueberroth to rebuild the inner city (in vain); to the federal courts to create a Latino seat and change the balance of power on the county Board of Supervisors. The tasks of city government no longer include the resolution of political conflicts.

"Partly, that's (Mayor Tom) Bradley's fault. He lost his clout when implicated in financial scandals in 1989; his majority on the council in 1987; his interest in the office around 1985. Partly, it's the fault of a city charter that creates a mayor so weak he can't fire his chief of police and a City Council so strong it can roll over the mayor. And partly, it's the fault of a stunningly parochial City Council, whose members concern themselves with their districts only--a task most of them define as striking the proper balance between the interests of developers and homeowner associations."

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Following the verdicts in the King federal trial, the Wall Street Journal reported that the city's "economic and social restoration appears as distant as ever."

"Perhaps no American city has hurtled so swiftly through its short history as Los Angeles--so much so that it has become a Rorschach test of urban strain. Beneath the surface, the nation's second-largest metropolis remains a place scored by ethnic and economic lines, hobbled by fractured politics and shadowed by a dim view of its future. While its population has soared, its industrial base has shrunk. Unemployment lingered at 10.4% in the county last month, more than three percentage points above the national average.

"There has been some change for the better in the year since riots were sparked by the acquittal of four white policemen on charges of beating black motorist Rodney King. A disorganized and still-understaffed police force seems to be finding its feet under new Chief Willie Williams. . . . And the mostly volunteer Rebuild L.A. has scored some successes in attracting new investment.

"If calm has brought relief to Los Angeles, it has also brought a sense of realism. The verdict 'by itself will not create more jobs or better schools,' cautioned Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley."

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